'Two Gloves' pushed Davis Love III all the way to the finish line at Disney

‘Two Gloves’ pushed Davis Love III all the way to the finish line at Disney

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Schecter Lee

Welcome to
the last stop on
the Hail Mary
Tour, also
known as the
Children’s Miracle
Network Classic, the final official event
of the PGA Tour season and a place where
desperate golfers fighting for their jobs take
desperate measures.

The Disney, as most
of the players call the tournament because
it’s held on the Magnolia and Palm courses at Disney World, is the final chance for players
to earn partial or fully exempt status for
2009. Yet although the Disney is the most pressure-
packed
regular Tour event of the year, it is also on the must-
play
list for every pro whose wife and kids want to kick back
at the Magic Kingdom.

“It’s really a paradox,”
says Joe Durant, who won the Disney
in 2006 but left Orlando last week a disappointing
128th on the money list and with
only conditional status for ’09. “It should
be the most relaxed atmosphere on Tour,
but a bunch of guys are in agony. We’re all
grinding hard because nobody wants to go
back to Q school.”

Boo Weekley, the Ryder
Cup hero and backwoods philosopher, was
among the lucky vacationer types. Asked if he
was going to practice after one of his rounds,
Weekley grinned and said, “No, sir. I have
to go find my son at the park. He’s probably
got Mickey in a headlock.”

At the other extreme was
Tommy (Two Gloves) Gainey, who nearly completed one
of the Tour’s alltime Hail Marys. A 33-year-old rookie who had won only $65,405 all season and
was buried at No. 228 on the money
list, Gainey endured a Bob Uecker-like
summer — 0 for June, 0 for July, 0 for August, 0 for September. Then he nearly
won the final tournament of the year, a
thriller that wasn’t
decided until the last
stroke on the last hole of the last round,
when Davis Love III made a clutch par
save from a greenside bunker to edge
Gainey by a shot, 25 under to 24 under.

“I had nothing to lose,” said Gainey after shooting 30 on the back nine for the
second straight day. All Love did was fire
back-to-back 64s on the weekend.
It was a heck of a shootout for two players
who couldn’t
get any Mutt and Jeffier.

Love is of the country club, the 44-year-old
son of a legendary golf instructor.
He has earned $37 million in his career,
played in six Ryder Cups and won prestigious
titles such as the Players and the
PGA Championship.

Gainey used to wrap insulation around
water heaters on an assembly line in
McBee, S.C., and is a latecomer to professional
golf. His homemade game, highlighted
by an exaggerated grip, with a
right hand underneath the club and a
bent-over stance, looks more suitable for
ditchdigging. The shiniest things on his
resume, until now, are star turns on Golf
Channel’s Big Break, a reality show, and
successfully running the gantlet at last
year’s qualifying school. He’s called Two
Gloves because he wears a glove on each
hand, usually a black one. It’s a habit he
brought from his baseball days, and why
not — he uses a 10-finger baseball grip to
play golf.

Noting their differences, Gainey,
who lives in Bishopville, S.C., says,
“Davis went to North Carolina. He was
an all-star, he was all-world. I graduated
from high school and went to work.”

So how did Two Gloves wind up as
the last man standing in a shootout with
Love? By turning around his game. Gainey
made the cut in four of his last six
starts, including one on the Nationwide
tour, with caddie Don Donatello on the
bag. Donatello, a fellow Big Break contestant,
helped Gainey focus on his weak
short game, taking him to Rife’s studio
in Orlando to get fitted for a new putter.

Gainey discovered there that he had
been aiming left of the target, as Donatello
had suspected, and that he needed
a shorter putter — 34 inches instead of
35. The studio visit was on Nov. 4. By
last Friday, when Gainey shot a second-round
66, he was enjoying newfound
confidence on the greens. “I ain’t one to
complain about a 66,” he said, “but I left
a couple out there or that could’ve
been
something around 59.”

Earlier this year
Gainey would’ve
given anything for a 66.
The new Tommy Two Gloves expected to
make every putt.
Stats don’t lie. Gainey ranked 177th on Tour in putting for the year. Last week he
led the field.

“He has plenty enough skills
to play out here,” Donatello says. “He has
the talent; he needs polish.”

The big finish was big stuff for Gainey.
There was the money, for starters — a payoff of $496,800, almost eight times
what he had won in his first 23 starts.
Asked if he’d been running a deficit in
’08, he said, “I’ll say this: I wasn’t
making
much.”

His winnings lifted him inside the
top 150 on the money list (148th),
which gives him conditional status for
next year — he can play in any tournament
he can get in with his low standing.

It also gives him a pass to the
final stage of Q school in December,
but even if he doesn’t
make it through
Q school, he’ll tee it up in the first fullfield
event of ’09, the Sony Open in
Hawaii, by virtue of his top 10 finish
in Orlando.

Skipping the second qualifying
stage, a top 150 perk Gainey wasn’t
aware of, meant he suddenly got this
week off, so he planned to drive home
to Bishopsville on Sunday night, a
seven-hour trip. “I’m not going to
sleep tonight anyway,” he said.

The Disney was his seventh straight
tournament, which means it has been
seven weeks since he’s seen his six-month-
old son, Tommy Gainey III.

Gainey says that he’s no longer with
the woman who bore his son, an emotional
distraction that didn’t
help his mental
focus during his difficult rookie season.

“I’m playing for him now,” Gainey says. “I
miss him a lot. I can’t wait to see him.”

Gainey made the most significant
move on the money list, but
there were other award-worthy
jumps.

The He’s Got Guts Award (Though Not
As Many As He Used To) goes to Jeff Overton,
who began the week as the official
bubble boy at 125 on the list. He ranked
that high only because he played the
Ginn sur Mer Classic the week before,
only nine days after having his appendix
removed. Playing in pain that sometimes
had him twitching on his follow-
through,
Overton somehow came in 21st. He felt
considerably better in Orlando and a
closing 69 lifted him to 118th on the
final list and clinched his Tour card for
’09, making his gut-wrenching
performance
a week earlier that much more
impressive.

The Ponce De Leon Cup goes to 49-year-old
Michael Allen, who began the week
at 123rd and was prepping for the Champions
tour Q school. Allen, who’ll turn 50
in January, finished ninth and wound up
106th on the money list. Now that he’s
exempt for the PGA Tour again, he’ll skip
the senior Q school and stay on the big
Tour, where the competition is considerably
better but so is the money.

Scotland’s Martin Laird, 25, gets the
Mover and Shaker Trophy. He was the
only player to begin the week outside
the top 125 (126th) and end up inside it.
He holed a par-saving
seven-
foot putt
on the 72nd hole that proved to be the
stroke that lifted him to No. 125, although
he would’ve
been bumped to nonexempt
status if Gainey had won.

“I knew if I
missed that last putt, I had no chance,”
said Laird, who was relieved but visibly
shaking when he came out of the scoring
cabin after his round.

The Roberto de Vicenzo Golden
Scorecard goes to Shane Bertsch,
who missed 2007 due to vertigo and
played this year on a medical extension.
He had to win about $785,000
in 25 events to retain his exemption,
which he did, but Bertsch misinterpreted
the rule. He thought meeting
the requirement exempted him for
’09. Instead, it exempted him for the
remainder of ’08. He didn’t
learn of
his error until the Tuesday of Disney
week, after he had already skipped the
Ginn sur Mer Classic to sprinkle his
father’s ashes on their favorite hunting
ground in North Dakota. Bertsch
ranked 124th upon arrival at Disney,
missed the cut and slipped to 126th,
about $11,500 behind Laird. Ouch.

Finally, let’s present the Lifetime
Achievement Award, or a reasonable
facsimile, to Love. His 20th career
Tour victory earns him a lifetime exemption
on the PGA Tour, which means
he’ll never have to worry about making
the top 125.

Love is a candidate for the comeback
player of the year, too, having worked
his way back from a major ankle injury
that required surgery about this time
last year. Love’s closing 64s gave him
15 consecutive rounds in the 60s at the
Disney, breaking a tournament record
held by Tiger Woods.

“At least I got one of his records,” Love
said, joking.

That’s something. After all, it is a small, small world.